Is it time for energy transition in Africa? That’s the question

Saturday June 24 2023

An exhibitor having a conversation (L) with Energy Secretary David Chirchir (C) and President William Ruto during Africa Energy Forum held at KICC in Nairobi, Kenya on June 20, 2023. PHOTO | KENNEDY AMUNGO | NMG


At the opening of the African Energy Forum (AEF) in Nairobi on Tuesday, Kenyan President William Ruto said his country has proved that it is possible to develop economically while maintaining clean energy goals, a view that several players in the energy sector are averse to.

According to Dr Ruto, Kenya’s “bold” move decades ago to invest in renewable energy “at a time when it was not fashionable to do so” has paid off, as at least 90 percent of electricity in Kenya today comes from clean sources.

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“There is a perception that development and green energy is in conflict or cannot be on the same trajectory,” Dr Ruto said, adding that Kenya is a “perfect example that it is possible to achieve meaningful development with green energy.”

Read: KenGen eyes Tanzania geothermal deals

He is not alone in this viewpoint. United States Agency for International Development (USAid) administrator Samantha Power, speaking at the same forum, said their initiative, Power Africa, has proved that developing Africa fast doesn’t have to involve using the same technologies that electrified the west.


While announcing a grant of $88.9 million to support renewable energy projects in the region under the Power Africa programme, Ms Power said that although many still argue that Africa should stick to fossil fuels to develop faster, initiatives such as Power Africa are proving that clean energy sources can spur just as much development.

Read: US gives $89m for clean energy projects in East Africa

“Together, we have proved we can extend power across the planet without harming the planet in the process,” Ms Power said. “We need to build on that momentum, because the simple fact is that we are going to need to move faster to reach the true scale of what we need.”

GE Gas Power’s managing director for Sub-Saharan Africa Kenneth Oyakhire also subscribes to this perspective. According to him, Africa needs to develop a way to transition in phases to avoid major disruptions in economies while steering economic growth at the same time.

“We cannot take with levity the impact of carbonisation. Whether we like it or not, it has an enormous impact on our environment, and we see it on a daily basis today,” Oyakhire told The EastAfrican.

“The sensible thing to do is to transition phase by phase, and what I mean by that is making sure gas takes a big play in the energy transition process. I believe that a good mix of gas and renewable energy is the way to go.”

On the other hand, a number of top leaders in the energy sector in the region hold the contrary opinion.

Some say that “just transition” is an idea of the West, but it’s not good for Africa and leaders shouldn’t buy into it.

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“Continents are at different stages of their growth curves. What’s ‘just’ in America might not be ‘just’ in Asia or in Africa,” said a senior official of a petroleum company in the region. “Today, about one half of Africans have no access to electricity, to them what matters is electricity, not the source, and that is what’s ‘just’ to them.”

Read: Fossil fuel pledges divide G7

The organiser of AEF EnergyNet’s managing director, Simon Gosling, told The EastAfrican that Africa’s most pressing problem is the huge energy gap that has left more than half the continent’s population without electricity and policies should seek to address that urgently.

“I prefer to talk about how we can create an environment to deliver reliable electricity in Africa,” he told The EastAfrican.

According to Mr Gosling, “just transition” means finding ways to keep people who were previously working in the non-renewable fuels sector employed and financially afloat even as the world transitions to safer alternatives, and that mostly applies to the West.

“In Kenya, for example, 90 percent of electricity is from renewable sources. So, what are you transitioning from?” he commented.